Technology, rather than self-imposed government regulations and oversight, is key to restricting the power of the U.S. National Security Agency, according to journalist Glenn Greenwald.
Greenwald on Friday delivered the keynote address at the 30th Chaos Communications Congress, or 30C3, a gathering of hackers in Germany. Though Greenwald is not a hacker — and admits to having trouble installing encryption software — his exposure of NSA surveillance operations has made him a star among Internet freedom advocates.
“I think one of the most significant outcomes of the last six months, but one of the most under discussed, is how many people now appreciate the importance of protecting the security of their communications. If you go and look at my [email] inbox from July, probably three to five percent of the emails I received were composed in PGP [encryption] code. That percentage is definitely above 50 percent today and probably well above 50 percent.”
Almost everyone he communicates with now either uses encryption software like PGP, or is embarrassed and apologetic that they don’t, Greenwald remarked.
He said the U.S. government was unlikely to reform its surveillance practices, besides “placating citizen anger” with mostly symbolic legislation. A recent White House report calling for reforms to the NSA would do little to safeguarding the privacy rights guaranteed to U.S. citizens.
“You see the president appoint a handful of his closest loyalists to this independent White House panel that pretended to issue a report that was very balanced and critical of the surveillance state but in reality introduced a variety of programs that at the very best would simply make these programs slightly more palatable from a public perspective and in many cases intensify the powers of the surveillance state rather than reining them in in any meaningful ways.”
But Greenwald is still optimistic about meaningful restrictions being put on the NSA. The courts, foreign governments, private companies, and private individuals in particular all have the power to put serious constraints on the surveillance state. He claimed the pro-privacy movement was strong and growing. With the help of new technology, the movement could limit the NSA’s powers.
“Ultimately, the battle over Internet freedom, the question of whether or not the Internet will really be this tool of liberation and democratization or whether it will become the worse tool of human oppression in all of human history will be fought out, I think, primarily on the technological battlefield,” Greenwald said.
Greenwald also praised Chelsea Manning, Daniel Ellsberg, and WikiLeaks for helping expose government wrongdoings.
He castigated the mainstream media for failing and evening refusing to question national security practices. Greenwald said he spent just as much time discussing government surveillance with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as he did discussing the current state of journalism.
“The reason is that we knew that what we were about to do would trigger as many debates over the proper role of journalism vis-a-vis the state and other power factions as it would the importance of international freedom and privacy and the threat of the surveillance state,” he explained. “And we knew in particular that one of our most formidable adversaries was not simply going to be the intelligence agencies on which we were reporting and who we were trying to expose, but also their most loyal, devoted servants, which calls itself the United States and British media.”
Watch video, uploaded to YouTube by Albert Veli, below.